The narrative thread running throughout the Rev. Jeremy Troxler’s life has been connecting the gifts of rural communities and churches with those of the academy.
A self-proclaimed child of a rural community, Troxler grew up on his family’s tobacco farm in Brown Summit, northeast of Greensboro. A child of the rural church, he worshipped weekly with his parents at nearby Gethsemane, a small United Methodist congregation. An academic achiever, he dreamed of studying medicine and returning to serve an area like his own, where doctors were scarce.
Instead, while a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Troxler felt called to service in a different way. He decided to become a minister, and he chose to attend seminary at Duke. At the Divinity School, Troxler says, he found “where the love of knowledge and the desire for God meet.”
But Troxler kept thinking about how to connect what he was learning at the academy with folks like his grandfather, who didn’t graduate from high school.
“The theme of my life is that I love both these communities, and they have shaped me in profound ways,” Troxler says. “Both are places of great gifts and goodness. But I’ve also seen how they can be separate from each other, living behind the wall of stereotypes that keep them at a distance. Overcoming that type of blindness brings out the best in each of them.”
The desire to connect these communities led Troxler to leave the rural parish of Maggie Valley UMC in June and return to Duke as director of Thriving Rural Communities. Based at the Divinity School, the program is being developed in partnership with The Duke Endowment and the two N.C. conferences of the United Methodist Church.
“What makes Jeremy a perfect fit for this initiative is that he has a love and appreciation for rural North Carolina and for rural churches,” says Joseph W. Mann, adjunct professor of parish work at the Divinity School and director of the Rural Church Division of The Duke Endowment. “As a pastor, he knows how remarkably vibrant, culturally rich and exciting these churches can be.”
Troxler brings passion and intellectual curiosity, as well as the ability to think theologically, and to help congregations think theologically, adds Mann.
As director, Troxler has visited among the seven rural churches selected for Thriving Rural Communities, and is eager to help them celebrate and share their most successful ministries. In collaboration with the two United Methodist conferences and The Duke Endowment, he is exploring how best to develop and sustain ways the church, theological education and rural communities can share their multiple gifts.
Troxler’s rural roots run deep. He and his younger brother spent their summers working on the family’s 140 acres of tobacco, and helping with its produce business selling tomatoes, cantaloupes and watermelons. Like many rural N.C. youth, they helped pull—or prime—individual tobacco leaves as they ripened on the stalk. Troxler jokes that “After priming tobacco in the blistering August sun, nothing else has been hard in comparison.